The Peached Tortilla: Modern Asian Comfort Food from Tokyo to Texas

I always hesitate to review cookbooks or mark them as read, because I don’t often read every word in a cookbook. I usually flip through all the recipes, to see if there’s anything I can or want to eat, and then, if so, I read the rest of the book. If not, there’s not much interest for me in the stories of how the author came about with the recipes. The Peached Tortilla is no exception. I got this as a freebie at a library conference–a beautiful hardcover (expen$ive) freebie, and while I appreciate that, there’s honestly less than a half dozen recipes in here that I would feel comfortable eating and making.

This iteration of fusion Asian-Texan comfort food is just not for me. Almost every dish involves animal products of some kind, and while I’m not a hardcore vegan at the moment, I prefer vegetarian, and vegan dishes if I can get or make them. Even the mixed drinks have eggs in the them! Most recipes involve brisket (Austin influence at work), seafood, or chicken. There’s also a lot of gluten. And the author states multiple times that he does not have a problem with MSG (or high sodium ingredients) in his food. MSG is a huge migraine trigger. no thanks. This just isn’t the cookbook for me, which is why I haven’t bothered reading the rest of Eric Silverstein’s musings at the beginning of chapters. I did read his intro to the book, though, and his cultural background and ties to Asian, especially Japanese cuisine, are interesting.

I do want to commend one specific aspect of this cookbook that I don’t often see in this genre. Not only does the author mention and credit his staff’s work frequently, and depict them in shots with him throughout the book, but he also includes two pages of portraits of employees, with their names. I think that’s really nice, as a good staff is essential for achieving any chef’s vision, and seeing this made me really happy.

Thank you to the publisher for giving me a free copy. This is a beautiful book, and I’ll pass it on to someone who can use and appreciate it more than I could.

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Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud was an interesting read. I don’t know that I’ve devoted a lot of attention to unruly women before, other than the obvious political candidates and activists. I’m not an unruly person, so I tend to let those sort of women do their own thing, and I do mine, and I have never stopped to consider why their actions make me, and even more so others around me, uncomfortable. This book drove me to look those assumptions in the face and consider what they meant about my internalization of elements of the patriarchy, especially religious patriarchy.

So I won’t say this was a comfortable book. I’m not sure I would have picked it up at all, had it not been featured in a library program I attended. But when it was selected as the reading material for a my training, I read the description and was intrigued, so I checked it out on audio. I didn’t know exactly what to expect out of the book. I’m only peripherally familiar with most of the women discussed: I haven’t listened to Nicky Minaj or Madonna‘s music much. or watched Kim Kardashian or Kaitlyn Jenner or Lena Dunham‘s shows. or Broad City. I’ve seen a couple of movies with Melissa McCarthy, and I’ve heard rumbles in the media about Serena Williams, but don’t really follow tennis. But aside from Hillary Clinton, I was not closely familiar with their work, or why it made people so uncomfortable (well, Serena’s case seemed like pretty obvious racism, but anyway…). I’m sorry to say I wasn’t even familiar with Jennifer Weiner‘s advocacy work for literature written by women.

I feel like I learned a lot from Anne Helen Petersen’s thoughtful work. I especially appreciated the focus on intersectionality in Petersen’s work, both in her consideration of the often awkward privilege of many of the white women she discussed, to the history of inherent racism in the way the women of color she discussed are treated. I’ll admit that all but the last two chapters felt like they were just a little too long, like the latter part of each chapter retreaded what Petersen had already addressed. But that was honestly my only real criticism. I enjoyed the audio format, which is read credibly by the author. I learned a lot about these unruly women, and while I’m not interested in watching the TV shows discussed, I’ve learned a lot more about the cultural and feminist significance of these women’s various actions and body of work, and I don’t think I will ever look at them quite the same way. I will also not think about these cultural assumptions of unruliness the same way again either. Whenever criticisms like too fat, too shrill (not likable), too old, too queer, or too strong come up in my thoughts or my conversations with others, I’m going to be challenging them more. Asking why we think we’re entitled to judge the choices of the women in question, and why, if we did, we consider those choices bad or wrong or gross.

This has been for me, in some ways, a paradigm shifting work. What’s even better is that it was not a difficult read. Pleasant narration and an easy-to-read writing style with lots of quotations and pop culture references made the work easy to consume and digest. I do recommend this book if you’re willing to sit down and engage with the topic.

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Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest: Recipes and Stories Inspired by My Appalachian Home

I’m giving this lovely cookbook two separate ratings. The official rating of three stars, or “it’s just fine/ I mostly liked it” is an aggregate of the two.

As a coffee table book, Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest gets 5 stars. It is spectacularly beautiful, full of gorgeous photographs, charming stories, and interesting recipes. It’s terrific for paging through at random and admiring it.

As a cookbook, it gets 2 stars. It is full of interesting recipes. Aka roasted grapes with sausage and leeks on white pizza. Grapefruit and vanilla french toast souffle. cornbread with grapes and jalapenos. Harvest spinach salad with chocolate. Blue cheese and walnut short bread. The recipes are fascinating, but hold zero appeal for me. They are complicated and have some expensive and/or obscure ingredients, which, since these recipes are only inspired by Appalachian culture, not faithful to it, can range from the difficult to obtain Appalachian locals ingredients, like ramps, to items much further afield, like saffron. Maybe they’re all terrific, delicious dishes, but I don’t feel like jumping through hoops to obtain the ingredients just to test that theory. (Also, if you have a need for keeping gluten and/or animal products out of your diet, these recipes won’t be much more helpful for you than they were for me. So much gluten and meat and dairy and eggs.)

So now that I’ve read and enjoyed the book, I’ll return it and keep an eye out elsewhere for recipes I can actually use. Thank you, #Netgalley, for letting me read an advanced copy for free in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you, next.

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The Right Sort of Man

I wasn’t sure what to expect, going into this book, other than that I was interested in the specific time period and setting (post WWII London), which I didn’t know much about, and that the concept (women matchmakers trying to clear one of their clients of murdering another of their clients, when the police won’t listen) was intriguing. I requested a copy from Netgalley, and set to reading. My initial interest in the concept and setting were enough to get me through the first half of the book, which was a bit slow by way of heavier exposition and introduction of characters and setting. But by the middle of the book the characters had sufficiently engaged me and the plot had picked up enough to keep me engrossed through to the end.

The characters and setting really helped make this story. The mystery wasn’t bad, but I was more interested in watching the ways that single/widowed women navigated the London of their time. Iris Sparks, with her secret government work history during WWII, was especially adroit at moving among different segments of London culture and gathering information, but the refined Gwen Bainbridge turned out to be surprisingly strong and resourceful as well. A significant theme of the story seemed to be the veteran Sparks learning her limits and the aristocratic widow Gwen learning her strength.

Also, while there are hints of possible romance in their future, the story is about these women and their lives. Not about romance. They want to make their business a success, to have economic and social agency to care for themselves (and in Gwen’s case, also her son). Both Gwen and Sparks were grieving aspects of their experiences from the War, as I’m sure most British citizens were at this point in their history. And while grieving and/or dealing with PTSD, they still had to navigate an England that was both strange and familiar to them. A world that was once again peaceful, but in many ways a shell of its former self, both literally, with all the destroyed buildings and shuttered businesses dotting the city, and figuratively, with strictly enforced rations, as well as the effects of their losses and experiences during the War. Not only is Gwen, for instance, coping with grief and being a single parent who is reliant on her hostile in-laws, but she’s also facing the harsh realities of a woman of her time who had needed to be hospitalized for mental health reasons. Seeing the tiny amount of control she had of her own life, much less her son’s life, was eye-opening and infuriating. Meanwhile, Sparks carries the scars of the work she was and wasn’t able to do during the war, and how that affected her various personal relationships, and her view of herself. Their relationships with others were nuanced, and mental health issues were addressed both with sensitivity and yet with period-appropriate sensibilities.

The supporting characters were also interesting and nuanced, from the handsome carpenter who worked at the docks, to Spark’s giant friend and enforcer Sally, to the menacing boss Archie and his crew, and the various characters, both shady and law-abiding, whom Gwen and Sparks met in the course of their investigation. I didn’t guess most of the twists of the mystery until shortly before they were revealed, so the mystery was not too obvious either. While this may not be brilliant writing, it is well-done, with the promise of even better work to come, as the series progresses. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the next entry in the Sparks and Bainbridge mystery series.

Thank you #Netgalley, for letting me read a free advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Life Will Be the Death of Me…and You Too!

Let me preface this all by saying that before this book I only knew OF Chelsea Handler. I didn’t really know anything about her, other than that her humor didn’t sound to my taste, and I hadn’t heard about any activism on her part, so I had no reason to be interested in her previous books or her stand up.

So when this book came through our library, I was pleasantly surprised to see the description, and to see that Handler was apparently wrestling with her own immense privilege. She was described as an activist, which I’d somehow missed her becoming in the past few years. So hearing how a privileged white woman woke up and tried learn to be more self-sufficient, acknowledge her privilege, and get involved in activism sounded intriguing to me. Plus, the book was short, and available on audio, read by the author. How bad could it be?

And the thing is, this book isn’t bad. I’ll admit I almost quit when listening to the first section. Chelsea is giving us a view of her incredibly rich, spoiled, out-of-touch existence, prior to her personal growth, and I found it nauseating. Rich white lady sits around smoking pot and drinking alcohol and popping prescription meds, making her TWO personal assistants and her household staff help with things like operating her shower and her TV and pretty much her house and life in general. She owns dogs, but expects others to do ALL the work associated with them, and doesn’t even know where her own toaster is. Chelsea is frank about it, but not in a very embarrassed or repentant way, and I had a hard time stomaching the life she was describing.

Then Chelsea started talking about her distress after the 2016 elections, and I could identify with that. And eventually that situation drove her to seek therapy from the ever-patient Dan. She seemed to be extremely frank about her sessions, and what was discussed, and how she reacted. And that was when her story got interesting for me.

Because, while Chelsea sounds like an absolutely exhausting person to be around, and, even after her personal growth, probably not someone I’d want to hang out with regularly, she has endured a lot of serious emotional trauma that has contributed to many of her less appealing behaviors. Her unconventional, unstable family and the huge amount of loss she suffered early in life would be enough to shake anyone. The fact that she responded by becoming an achiever reflects on her innate strength and is admirable.

There were still sections throughout the books that were disturbing to me, especially in how she interacts with her dogs. (Who thinks feeding dogs human food or MEDICATION is a smart idea? seriously. Not that she presents it as such, but it’s still remarkably awful at times. Also it’s kind of creepy how much she apparently wants to cuddle her dogs, and the almost romantic way she discusses her relationship with them.) Chelsea is also really big on substance use, if not abuse….her constant talk of popping prescription pharmaceuticals and drinking and especially of smoking pot got REALLY tiresome really fast. I don’t care if she considers herself some kind of medication savant. She uses A LOT of substances on an extremely regular basis, and I didn’t enjoy hearing about it.

However, while I’m not saying Chelsea sounds like she’ll ever stop being the pampered celebrity that she is, at least by the end of the period of time she documents in this book, she’s learned to recognize and call out her own privilege, and to try to give voice to those from more marginalized groups. She’s also learned how to scoop her dogs’ poop and take them for a walk, and that she shouldn’t grab her housekeeper’s butt or otherwise fondle her (once again, WTF Chelsea?). So she’s making progress. I really appreciate that she was so frank about the pain and loss she suffered in her childhood, and how it affected her all the way into the present. I appreciate that she was also so frank about seeking therapy, which helps to reduce the stigma for others. And I give her props for seeking to make the world a better place with activism. This book was (mostly) funny, and a fast, easy read that held my attention (especially on audio, which she reads quite well–imbuing the emotional passages with emotion without getting too hokey about it). I still won’t be seeking out her humor writing, but I appreciated this read, and hope that we continue to see her progressing at becoming a better person who can help make a difference for good in our world. Go ahead and give the book a try if you think this sounds interesting; just know that there’s some unappealing sections to power through to get to the good parts.

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The Bride Test

This book was everything. It was beautiful and sweet and sexy and heartfelt and real. I absolutely loved the Kiss Quotient, so I had high expectations coming into The Bride Test, and this did not disappoint. I’ve delayed writing a review because I feel like nothing I say will do it justice, but I’m going to at least try.

Kiss Quotient was beautiful too, but in more of a clean, neatly sexy traditional romance way. Michael and Stella were well-dressed professionals, and they were delightful to get to know and watch with each other. Even the things that made them diverse, neurologically and ethnically, were neatly packaged.

The dynamics, though, in The Bride Test, are just different. This time it’s Esme who is wooing Khai–yes, because she wants to bring her daughter to the US for better opportunities, but also because Khai turns out to be a handsome, thoughtful person, albeit with some confusing (to her) behavioral quirks. They’re still a beautiful couple–but they feel more realistic. Perhaps because Esme isn’t rich. Perhaps because her experiences as an immigrant humanize her so much. Perhaps simply because it’s mentioned that she doesn’t like to wear bras, and I am there for that. I mean, who does? They live in Khai’s house, which isn’t fancy, because reasons (even though he’s rich), and eat homemade food. Esme also unashamedly loves to eat, and that’s also something I’m there for, especially depicted in a romance. They both work, in Esme’s case a lot, between a job and classes. and yet they find time to gradually get to know each other, both emotionally and in the more physical sense.

I won’t lie–that first sex scene between them is utterly painful. But that made it seem more real too. I can too easily imagine this happening. It led, however, to an absolutely hilarious conversation among Khai, Michael, and Quan, about sex and women and pleasing women. and it led to a better understanding for Khai–who is nothing if not a good student. Seeing him grow into the kind of relationship he was certain he wasn’t capable of was a slow build, but so rewarding.

Knowing that Esme’s character is inspired and informed heavily by Helen’s own mom’s experiences helps, perhaps, explain why Esme feels so very real. She isn’t a stereotypical American romantic lead–but she is gorgeous and fun and funny and smart and so resourceful, in the face of her many various challenges. Please be sure to read Helen’s Author’s Note at the end of the story.

Also, can we talk about Quan? I LIKED him in the Kiss Quotient. But seeing him more in the Bride Test, especially in his role as the one who takes care of his whole family? I absolutely LOVE him now. He’s the player with the heart of gold (who is presumably single because he just can’t handle one more person needing him to take care of them), and I CANNOT wait for his book to come out next. I can only hope that Helen finds him a woman who takes as good care of him as he does of everyone else. In every way.

There were a few awkward spots in this story, of course. There’s a certain disconnect between the rather rushed and hectic ending and the epilogue that left me and my friends who read this with questions about what and how and why.. Some things seemed to tie up too neatly, and others seemed unnecessarily dragged out. And then there were an earlier scene where Esme made a really really inexplicably poor choice that seemed difficult to understand, even in the context of cultural differences, and ended up feeling more like a plot driver to achieve the result. Because who would do that?

But that doesn’t change the fact that I absolutely loved this book. That it managed to feel real without feeling too dark. Just full of the natural sweat and tears and laughter that come with being humans interacting with and falling in love with other humans (and chopping down small trees with kitchen knives). Full of experiences dealing with language barriers, cultural differences, and bureaucracy. Vietnamese words scattered throughout the story. Delicious foods mentioned. Esme and Khai were charming, and their story, with their growth throughout, was sweet and heartwarming. As I said, I cannot wait for the third book in this series. And I can’t wait to see what Helen Hoang keeps coming out with, because I have confidence that, whatever she writes, it will be great!

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Once Ghosted, Twice Shy

I’ve put off writing this review for weeks now, because I hate to admit that one of Alyssa Cole’s stories was just meh for me. That it took me weeks and weeks to get around to finishing it. For context, I was so excited for this story that I pre-ordered it. Likotsi was my favorite part of A Princess in Theory, and I thought that her story would be a perfect way to start reading f/f romance. Unfortunately, it just didn’t wow me. I think some of it was me–I started reading Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe around the same time, and realized too late that they had very similar premises. So they got kinda muddled in my mind. I put this down so I could unmuddle myself and finish the ARC of The Right Swipe by publication date, and then just really had to struggle to get back to this and finally finish what is really a relatively short novel.

Another “it’s me not you” aspect was that I disliked several of the tropes or plot structures at play. I’m not usually fond of circadian fiction (action taking place within 24 hours) or stories told heavily with flashbacks. And I’m really not into romances dealing with second chances or the relatively new phenomena of ghosting. So maybe I was doomed to be disappointed with this story.

I still liked Likotsi–she was still dapper and charming and confident and always so capable. I also really loved her perspective on American culture, as someone from outside it. But I never connected to Fabiola, even though I loved her character in theory. A stylish throwback pinup lesbian with immigrant family? yes please. But I never could seem to connect. I felt like her reaction and reason for ghosting Likotsi originally was kinda weak and not very rational, so it was hard for me to buy how “undying” her love for Likotsi turned out to be. Especially after only they had only spent a few days together originally.

So, yes, I was disappointed in this story. I finally finished it, but it just didn’t do much for me. Don’t get me wrong–I still love Alyssa Cole’s books, and I’m eagerly awaiting what’s next. I just hope I enjoy whatever is next better than I did this story.

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